Monday, November 28, 2011

Beyond Anorexia

Over the years I have had many conversations with sufferers of anorexia. I shared with a friend that I know of some who have suffered from anorexia in the past, and my friend asked how a person can “get over anorexia.”

From what I have learned, “getting over one’s anorexia” is not really an accurate way of viewing the situation. This is why I have chosen “Beyond Anorexia” for the title of this post.

One of the statements made by someone suffering the influences of anorexia is: “You cannot understand.” This statement is often made very adamantly and sometimes even angrily.

I share this because I believe that this is a small indicator regarding what anorexia is. I hope that the importance of this becomes evident as this article progresses.

For the record, those who say this are right in saying that I cannot understand. The mindset and perspective are foreign to me, at least mostly. Having said that, in my observance of the human condition on account of sin and the change in perspective that sinfulness causes, I believe that anorexia is merely one way among many that people react to what they don’t understand about themselves and don’t like about the broken condition in which they find themselves.

The Mayo Clinic gives the following definition of anorexia, which can be viewed with additional information here.

By Mayo Clinic staff

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that causes people to obsess about their weight and the food they eat. People with anorexia nervosa attempt to maintain a weight that's far below normal for their age and height. To prevent weight gain or to continue losing weight, people with anorexia nervosa may starve themselves or exercise excessively.

Anorexia (an-oh-REK-see-uh) nervosa isn't really about food. It's an unhealthy way to try to cope with emotional problems. When you have anorexia nervosa, you often equate thinness with self-worth.

Anorexia nervosa can be difficult to overcome. But with treatment, you can gain a better sense of who you are, return to healthier eating habits and reverse some of anorexia's serious complications.

It is true that I cannot understand. No one really understands fully. This is true of the person suffering with anorexia, too.

Over the years I have attempted to learn about this issue in conversations with sufferers of anorexia, and especially with past sufferers. Such attempts usually prove to be entrance into turbulent waters. One of the responses that I often received in earlier attempts was: “Why do you have to keep analyzing me?”

This is how it feels to a person who is being asked about emotional issues. We usually do not like to be asked to attempt to explain what we do not really understand ourselves, especially if we already feel troubled by these things. Examining such things can feel uncomfortable and even painful.

However, in our relationships, those with us in these relationships are affected along with us in our struggles. This is especially true in a marital relationship. The wife belongs to the husband and the husband belongs to the wife. The two have been made to be one, and what affects one affects the other. This is true regarding lifestyle and eating habits and planning of meals and choices of restaurants and timing of schedules, in short, in everything. But health matters impact our spouses, too. Being overweight affects one’s body and health and thereby affects one’s spouse. Anorexia has affects upon one’s body and health, sometimes permanently, and thereby affects one’s spouse, too. Alcohol abuse, drug dependency, sexual addiction and pornographic addiction, sexual aversion, these also are examples of issues that affect both spouses.

Other family members are affected as well. Fellow workers, friends, even neighbors are affected in various ways and to various degrees. We often do not even realize how our own issues impact others.

We generally don’t like for others to address “our issues.” In fact, we often deny that “our issues” are issues.

Anorexia, like other struggles, involves various factors. What one person experiences may not be exactly the same as with someone else who struggles with the complexities of anorexia. However, in conversations with people who face this struggle I have observed that there are similarities, strong similarities.

Moreover, in conversations with people with other struggles, I have learned that there are similarities with all of our struggles. We all face the same basic issues, but we do not all react to them in the same ways.

For example, I have sometimes heard obese people, and especially obese women, say that they use their weight as a protective barrier. Some obese women, in particular, have shared that having experienced heartache with men and especially with sexual advances from men, that they chose to make themselves less sexually attractive through weight gain. In this way they controlled the way that men view them and thereby gain a sense of security and control over their lives. For them, their overweight condition gives them the freedom to interact with men without fear of having to fend off sexual advances.

Seeking control in our lives is a very big issue for all of us. Adam fell prey to this when the serpent tempted him to doubt God’s goodness and justness so that Adam sought to gain more control for himself through gaining the knowledge of evil in addition to good. As a result, we all have had control issues ever since. Thus we seek to gain control in our lives through many different approaches.

This seems to be at least one aspect of the person with anorexic tendencies. For whatever reason, the anorexic person feels the need to gain control, and the person determines that control over what is eaten gives the person at least one area in life that he or she now controls. It is delusional to think this, but it is common to us all. Very quickly this false sense of control overtakes the person’s thinking so that the illusion of control now controls the person.

One perspective in connection with anorexia is that one may view fat as bad. When fat is perceived as something bad, then it must be avoided. Since fat is an essential part of our bodies in the proper proportion, this is a dangerous false view. Since women’s bodies are designed with a need for more fatty tissue than men’s bodies, this is an even more dangerous false perspective for women.

Fat can be viewed as bad for a variety of reasons. Fat can have detrimental affects upon one’s health. Fat can make clothes feel too tight. Fat can be unsightly and unattractive.

And so, anorexia, like many other struggles in people’s lives, often is an issue of self-perception.

This extends to how a person perceives the perceptions by others as well. In fact, how one thinks that others view the person largely influences how that person perceives oneself. This can be very powerful. This becomes immensely powerful when one has been hurt or betrayed by a close friend or family member. Girls and young women seem to be especially vulnerable to such hurts when a close female friend is the one who causes the hurt, especially when rejection is the cause.

How does a person move beyond these things? How does one who has used limitation of food as a control mechanism move beyond this dependency? How does one who may even seek to punish oneself through limiting the enjoyment of eating move beyond this?

Often, in an attempt to find a solution to such an issue, one compulsion is substituted for another. Sometimes a person will realize the debilitating effects and affects of a compulsion and will substitute something less harmful or limiting. People do this in many ways, including substituting Twelve Step Programs and accountability partners. Often another compulsion or addiction or control factor is substituted. Something less undesirable is substituted for the more undesirable habit or addiction.

What about those who feel a need to punish oneself? This is not at all uncommon. Sometimes control is not the real issue. Sometimes a person has such a view of oneself that the person acts against oneself in an attempt to escape the way that self is perceived. Such self punishment can reach horrific extremes. Self denial of this type is powerfully destructive.

How does one move beyond this?

We don’t have the strength to move beyond this. This is why people substitute one thing for another. This is why people live their entire lives feeling trapped and depressed and hopeless.

Isabelle Caro is an example of this. Her interview with CBS News can be viewed here. Before viewing this, please be aware that what is displayed is appalling. The video shows her emaciated body, and may be offensive.

This video interview shows how powerless this poor woman was to combat this condition that enslaved her. November 17, at 28 years of age, Isabelle died, as reported by the New York Times at Isabelle Caro, Anorexic Model, Dies at 28.

Is there hope then? Is there a way beyond anorexia?

Yes, there is a way beyond anorexia and beyond all of the ways in which we all are enslaved by sin and its consequences.

We very much need to have our self-view or our self-perception restored to what is healthy and wholesome. This cannot be achieved by changing one’s lifestyle or by altering one’s behavior. This cannot be achieved through therapy. It cannot be achieved through drugs. It cannot be achieved through Twelve Step programs.

What then is the way beyond the things that are too big for us to overcome? How can we regain a healthy understanding and perspective?

The answer is found in understanding why we have such problems in the first place. We have been cut off from the original source of life. This has happened through the delusion of free will. When the serpent challenged the goodness of God, suggesting that God’s good and gracious declarations were lacking, Adam imagined that God’s goodness was not sufficient and he chose to do better for himself. But this choice was a choice to be cut off from what God had ordained and established. It was a choice to replace the image of God with a new image, an image that was corrupt and evil. This is the condition that we have inherited.

The answer, the cure, the way beyond this, is redemption and regeneration. God has ordained the means by which this is worked for us. He has ordained Baptism as “the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” St. Paul explains this more fully, saying:

      For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:3-7)

In the first sentence the apostle portrays not only how we are, but also how we perceive ourselves. We try to find ways not to see, to deny what looks back at us from the mirror, to pretend that what we know about ourselves and what others react to concerning us is not real, but we cannot hide. Adam and his wife made aprons from fig leaves and hid from the presence of the Lord, but they were nevertheless ashamed. They could not hide from their own consciences. Neither can we. Neither can we cover up the truth.

But God manifested His kindness and love with the promise of the Savior, who was born into the world in the fullness of time, to redeem us. So that we may receive the benefits of this redemption, He ordained Baptism for our washing and regeneration as those whom He has justified and renewed.

On the day of Pentecost, St. Peter told those who realized their need for the Lord’s help and salvation that the means by which God would incorporate them into His kingdom of grace was through Baptism. Here is the account:

     Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. (Acts 2:38-47)

In this account Luke not only records the promise, but also records the result. There were many thousands of people in that crowd. Of those, three thousand were baptized. These people experienced what God promised. They were changed from the inside out. They no longer perceived themselves as they did before. Now they knew themselves to be God’s beloved children. Now they knew themselves as holy people, declared to be holy by God Himself.

St. Peter explains this further in his epistle.

     For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto evenw baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him. (1 Peter 3:18-22)

St. Peter informs us that Baptism saves us. He says that it purifies our conscience, washing away the corrupt thoughts and ways that we have in us and replacing them with pure thoughts that God gives to us in connection with the promise that Christ’s substitutionary suffering has justified us and restored us so that we may approach God with a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This is how we get beyond our selves and what we do not like about ourselves. This is how we receive a new and healthy perception of ourselves so that we may live free and happy and blessed lives.

Through this God restores us to the knowledge that we do not need to be in control. When we depend upon Him and trust His goodness, when we live as His beloved children who receive our daily bread and all that we need for both body and soul from His gracious hand, the things that previously ruled our hearts and minds no longer have any power over us. Through this we live in the promise that the peace of God that surpasses all understanding guards our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. God’s peace becomes our guardian. God’s love is our hope and becomes our new perspective. When we hear how God loves us in Christ, we begin to learn truly to love ourselves.

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An additional comfort from the Holy Scriptures that directs us to the freedom of knowing and living as God’s beloved children:

Romans 8:26-39.

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